Dollar General surprises Denti with $50,000 gift to promote literacy

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“I was flabbergasted,” said Denti Elementary School Principal, Sherry Lubey about her reaction to opening a gift box given to her by Dollar General team members and seeing a check for $50,000.

Dollar General Corporation’s Reading Revolution indulges in surprising American public schools — as they did at Denti Elementary School in Rome this past Monday, Nov. 29 — with similar gifts to enhance literacy and love of reading.

The Dollar General Corporation has been serving American communities for over 80 years and currently operates over 17,000 stores in 46 U.S. States. It was co-founded by J.L. Turner, who was functionally illiterate when he dropped out of school to help support his family.

Turner’s grandson and former CEO of Dollar General Corporation, Cal Turner, Jr., founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation in 1993 in honor of his grandfather.

Since its inception the DGLF has awarded over $30 million in grants to support literacy initiatives and has supported over eight million people in taking “their first steps toward literacy” or continued education. The Reading Revolution evolved from the DGLF as a proactive initiative promoting literacy among elementary-age children and, since its inception in 2013, has awarded over $4 million in gifts similar to the one waiting in the box for Denti’s Principal Lubey

“I was contacted by Dollar General’s corporate office and told they had a surprise for Denti,” said Lubey. “They asked if they could send some team members to deliver it personally and suggested gathering our students and, if possible, to have the school librarian there.”

Lubey mused that perhaps they would be gifting some books for their school library, which would have been great. When she first opened the box, she gravitated toward seeing a check for $5,000, at first unable to believe it could be the $50,000 gift that it was.

“I have no idea how Denti was selected,” said Lubey.

A clue could lie in the generosity of the Rome neighborhoods near Denti that shop at the Dollar General Store on Black River Boulevard. Dollar General invites its customers at point of sale to “round up” their purchase to the nearest dollar or to drop donations in remarkable “cube” receptacles to support their literacy initiatives. The foundation works to infuse those donations back into the local communities. When a given community is extraordinarily generous, Dollar General is likely be as generous, in kind. 

“I work with communities spanning from Pennsylvania to Canada,” said Dollar General Regional Director, Matt Abernathy, who had the honor, together with District Manager, Michael McLean, of presenting the $50,000 gift to the elementary school, “and I can tell you sincerely that the people of Rome, NY are very giving.”

Then, after a pause … “Extremely giving.”

When we decide how to use it – we’ll report back to them.

Lubey shared that Dollar General places very few restrictions on the use of the money. They ask only that it be spent on materials and programs that promote advancing literacy among its students and that, once Denti decides how they will earmark the Dollar General dollars, they share their plan and its outcomes with the company.

Lubey’s initial thoughts were to enhance programs and wish lists the school already has. She noted that Denti has a “School Improvement Team” who she plans to task with composing a proposal for the use of the funds. She also shared that Denti’s current “building plan” places priorities on socio-emotional needs of students and literacy – both acute needs that have been identified as school communities emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to build classroom libraries that are inspired by suggestions from the students, not just books that their teachers might choose,” said Lubey, “so that the classroom libraries are a unique reflection of that class.”

Lubey also noted a focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in specifically working to enhance the school library with more diverse titles and content.

The Denti team has discussed the idea of launching an annual Literacy Fair – similar in concept to a school-based Science Fair – and hoped to expand on that idea this coming spring.

“This money will definitely help with that,” said Lubey.

Lubey noted that there are so many ways in which the Dollar General gift would serve to benefit the students of Denti. She was inclined to ensure that it was not spent all at once, and instead served as a resource when new needs and ideas emerged.

Lubey shared that the representatives from Dollar General were treated to a rousing round of applause from the teachers and students – and, of course, the school librarian – in appreciation for their generosity and the rest of the school’s classrooms lent their cheers when an announcement was made over the school’s PA system.

But, when asked if she remembered the first thing she said in the moments after opening the box and seeing the $50,000 check inside it, Lubey distinctly remembered being “speechless.”

“I had eight classes of kindergartners through fourth graders staring at me, waiting anxiously for me to tell them what was in that box and I just couldn’t speak,” said Lubey, “I am not a person who cries easily, and tears came to my eyes.”

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